Among the young men assembled at the University of Prague, in the year 159–, was one called Karl von Wolkenlicht. A somewhat careless student, he yet held a fair position in the estimation of both professors and men, because he could hardly look at a proposition without understanding it. Where such proposition, however, had to do with anything relating to the deeper insights of the nature, he was quite content that, for him, it should remain a proposition; which, however, he laid up in one of his mental cabinets, and was ready to reproduce at a moment’s notice. This mental agility was more than matched by the corresponding corporeal excellence, and both aided in producing results in which his remarkable strength was equally apparent. In all games depending upon the combination of muscle and skill, he had scarce rivalry enough to keep him in practice. His strength, however, was embodied in such a softness of muscular outline, such a rare Greek-like style of beauty, and associated with such a gentleness of manner and behaviour, that, partly from the truth of the resemblance, partly from the absurdity of the contrast, he was known throughout the university by the diminutive of the feminine form of his name, and was always called Lottchen.
“I say, Lottchen,” said one of his fellow-students, called Richter, across the table in a wine-cellar they were in the habit of frequenting, “do you know, Heinrich Hoellenrachen here says that he saw this morning, with mortal eyes, whom do you think?–Lilith.”
“Adam’s first wife?” asked Lottchen, with an attempt at carelessness, while his face flushed like a maiden’s.
“None of your chaff!” said Richter. “Your face is honester than your tongue, and confesses what you cannot deny, that you would give your chance of salvation–a small one to be sure, but all you’ve got–for one peep at Lilith. Wouldn’t you now, Lottchen?”
“Go to the devil!” was all Lottchen’s answer to his tormentor; but he turned to Heinrich, to whom the students had given the surname above mentioned, because of the enormous width of his jaws, and said with eagerness and envy, disguising them as well as he could, under the appearance of curiosity–
“You don’t mean it, Heinrich? You’ve been taking the beggar in! Confess now.”
“Not I. I saw her with my two eyes.”
“Notwithstanding the different planes of their orbits,” suggested Richter.
“Yes, notwithstanding the fact that I can get a parallax to any of the fixed stars in a moment, with only the breadth of my nose for the base,” answered Heinrich, responding at once to the fun, and careless of the personal defect insinuated. “She was near enough for even me to see her perfectly.”
“When? Where? How?” asked Lottchen.
“Two hours ago. In the churchyard of St. Stephen’s. By a lucky chance. Any more little questions, my child?” answered Hoellenrachen.
“What could have taken her there, who is seen nowhere?” said Richter.
“She was seated on a grave. After she left, I went to the place; but it was a new-made grave. There was no stone up. I asked the sexton about her. He said he supposed she was the daughter of the woman buried there last Thursday week. I knew it was Lilith.”
“Her mother dead!” said Lottchen, musingly. Then he thought with himself–“She will be going there again, then!” But he took care that this ghost-thought should wander unembodied. “But how did you know her, Heinrich? You never saw her before.”
“How do you come to be over head and ears in love with her, Lottchen, and you haven’t seen her at all?” interposed Richter.
“Will you or will you not go to the devil?” rejoined Lottchen, with a comic crescendo; to which the other replied with a laugh.
“No one could miss knowing her,” said Heinrich.
“Is she so very like, then?”
“It is always herself, her very self.”
A fresh flask of wine, turning out to be not up to the mark, brought the current of conversation against itself; not much to the dissatisfaction of Lottchen, who had already resolved to be in the churchyard of St. Stephen’s at sun-down the following day, in the hope that he too might be favoured with a vision of Lilith.